It’s a rumour you hear about but are never sure if it’s true: can you book a last minute cruise to Antarctica and save thousands?
Yes, it’s true!
While in Ushuaia for my own Antarctica cruise (not booked last minute), I asked around at hostels, hotels and travel agencies about deals. I didn’t need to look too hard because the moment I walked into my accommodation, I noticed a printed flyer with the current Antarctica cruise deals posted up in plain view. In fact, they were all over town.
Show up to Punta Arenas, Chile or Ushuaia, Argentina and you’ll save thousands of dollars by paying for a last minute cruise.
But it’s not necessarily as simple as it sounds and you need to consider a few things.
How good are the deals?
Depending on the expedition course itinerary, you can save upwards of 50% if you book last minute.
I asked around on my cruise to see if there were travellers who had booked within the last few days or weeks. There were.
The listed price of the cheapest cabin on my ship was $16, 495 USD – for a triple share berth. Several people on board One Ocean Expedition‘s Akademik Ioffe snagged a last minute deal for $8, 900 USD, booked with a travel agency in Ushuaia. It’s still expensive, but that’s almost half price (46% off!) for a 19-day expedition through the Falkland Islands, South Georgia and the Antarctic Peninsula.
**Hot Tip: The most expensive Antarctic cruises – or the most expensive berths on a ship – are more likely to offer a bigger discount. The triple or quad share cabins don’t go on sale as often but you may be able to snag a twin room for the same price of a triple or quad share.
Benefits of Booking Last Minute
1. The price is discounted by several thousand dollars – depending on the type of cruise you’re interested in and the length of time.
2. Companies often offer bonus deals like a jacket you can keep or a book on the local wildlife.
3. You may get lucky and land an empty cabin to yourself. If the ship doesn’t completely fill up you might have a room to yourself or one other roommate rather than two! There is no way of knowing how it will work out, it’s completely based on luck.
Drawbacks of Booking Last Minute:
1. You need to have some major flexibility in your schedule. I would not recommend this for anyone who is on a timeline and needs to be back to work on a certain date or catch a flight out. This is ideal for long-term travellers who can be flexible and wait for the right trip on the right days.
2. Cruise options are limited – particularly in high season. If you plan on going to Antarctica in December or January be aware that this is the peak of high season for cruises. The likelihood of getting a spot on the ship is smaller than if you plan to travel in November, February or early March.
3. Not all options are available. If you had your heart set on kayaking or winter camping, the last minute deals may no longer have availability for these extra activities or the ship may not offer them at all.
4. Often the boats giving out these last minute trip discounts have a higher number of passengers on board – which isn’t a good thing. My boat could accommodate 96 passengers, other boats can hold up to 200. Know that landings in Antarctica are limited to 100 passengers at a time – and it is a lengthy process to zodiac clients out to the landing sites as the boats generally hold only 10-12 people. It took up to an hour to get us to shore sometimes. Every minute on land counts so you don’t always want to be limited by less time than normal for everyone to have “their turn.”
5. Consider the extra cost to “hanging” around and waiting for the right cruise discount to show up. It could take days or even weeks for the perfect availability. Consider how much accommodation, food and entertainment will cost while you’re waiting. It will dip into the savings you have set aside for an Antarctic cruise.
How do you book a last minute cruise?
How it works: Travel agencies get the leftover berths from the ship operators 10 days to two weeks before sailing. The price is set by the operator – there is no room for negotiating a deeper deal (I tried). These leftover spaces are offered to people waiting in Ushuaia or Punta Arenas or anyone travelling around Patagonia.
The cheapest and most readily available deals are usually in November. Then prices peak in high season from Christmas through January departures. January is the highest month of the Antarctic season with hatching penguin chicks, long days and whales arriving from their migration. Waiting is common. February and March are excellent for whale watching and deals are more likely to occur.
1. Book in Person:
The easiest way is to show up to Punta Arenas or Ushuaia and shop around. They are small cities and the tourist centre is easy to get around and ask around to find the deals. Antarctic expedition companies release their last minute prices to travel agents so your best bet is booking with an agent.
2. Book Online:
A second option is to reach out to a travel agency through e-mail about their last minute deals. They will send you a listing of options, dates, prices and voyage itineraries. My friend Meg, from Travelher, recently did. She was in Chile, planned to travel in February, had flexibility in her schedule and could choose from 6 options e-mailed to her for an Antarctic cruise. She travelled out of Punta Arenas by airplane to save time on the two-day crossing over the notorious Drake Passage. Her trip was discounted by 40%. The original price was $10, 895 USD and she landed it for $6, 595 USD. This was the best option on the listing based on destinations, boat and price.
What if you can’t book last minute?
Don’t worry – there are still ways to land discounted Antarctica cruises!
If you don’t have the flexibility necessary to book a last minute cruise while waiting around South America, consider signing up for travel reports or expedition companies’ e-mail newsletters. A month or two before the season gets underway, companies attempt to sell their available berths for deep discounts. In September, I received a travel e-mail announcing a price reduction for Antarctic cruises. Most deals were only on twin rooms. They generally worked out to be the same price as a triple-share. It’s a benefit if you’re looking to have a private room for cheaper prices rather than the cheapest cruise available.
The flash sale I watched was for only three days and berths went quickly. You have to be prepared to act fast if you get one of these e-mails. I was thisclose to booking a 10-day cruise to the Antarctic peninsula in a twin room for $7000 CAD. I declined last minute as it just didn’t feel right and didn’t offer the types of activities I wanted. It’s important to know what you are willing to give up – or not – while booking a trip. As an adventure traveller, I needed an activity like camping, scuba diving, or kayaking or the ability to see more places like South Georgia or the Falklands. The cruise I declined would only take me to Antarctica, kayaking was already sold out and the other two activities weren’t offered (or the cruise was still out of my price range). The wasn’t something I was willing to drop so much money on and be disappointed that I didn’t get the experience I had dreamed about.
Do you have any other questions about landing a last minute cruise to Antarctica? I spent hours of researching and figuring it out myself, so feel free to ask them in the comments below and I’ll answer them!
Love this article? Pin it!